President Obama's "green team" is nearly complete, as the Senate on Thursday confirmed Lisa Jackson to run the Environmental Protection Agency and Nancy Sutley to head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Senators also approved Ray LaHood as Secretary of Transportation. All three officials were confirmed by voice vote.
Jackson's appointment had been in limbo, as reports suggested that a Republican senator, John Barrasso of Wyoming, was blocking it until he received some clarity about Carol Browner's role as Obama's top adviser on climate and energy issues. Barrasso later consented to allowing the confirmation to proceed after talking to Browner, according to a spokesperson for the Environment and Public Works Committee, which was managing the confirmation. (Barrasso told TPM the same thing).
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate panel, issued a statement immediately after the confirmation praising her colleagues for approving Sutley and Jackson. "I am really pleased that the Senate has taken the first steps toward restoring the EPA and CEQ to their proper role as organizations that fight to protect the health of our families and the safety of our air, our water and our planet," said Boxer. "Lisa Jackson and Nancy Sutley are well qualified to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and the Council on Environmental Quality, and they respect and understand that their organizations' mission is to protect public health and the environment."
The Senate has not yet acted on Obama's nomination of Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) to run the Department of Labor. Solis has said she will use her post to champion the creation of "green jobs."
Former Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), Obama's pick for Secretary of Transportation, on Wednesday didn't reveal much about how he will handle his new job when he appeared before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, but he did make the explicit connection between transportation issues and climate change and sustainability.
"We must acknowledge the new reality of climate change. This has implications in all areas," LaHood told the senators. "The inner-city, rail and mass-transit funding in the economic recovery plan are a part of the equation, but only a part."
LaHood said there will be four focus areas for his work: safety, the economy, sustainability and livability. Transportation programs should be designed to create jobs and improve the lives and safety of citizens he said, and there must be an eye toward the long-term needs of the country.
"Sustainability must permeate all we do, from highways and transit to aviation and ports. President Obama is committed to this principle, and so am I," he said.
LaHood said that raising automobile fuel efficiency standards will be "one way for us to really overcome some of the pollution that exists around the country." Tighter standards, he said, should "be a part of the overall plan here to eliminate pollution, the greening of America, and getting the American car manufacturers in the game here with the reality that they need to be producing American cars that get much better standards."
Asked about his support for Amtrak, LaHood pledged to work with Congress to implement the funding bill that approved last year. "I think it's the way forward to get us as comprehensive as we can an Amtrak system in this country," said LaHood. "During my 14 years in Congress, in the House, I had been a strong supporter of Amtrak. It's the lifeblood for many, many communities around the country, and I will work with all of you to implement the Amtrak bill. I think it's a good bill."
He was also asked for his ideas on how to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, which was has been nearly depleted as a spike in gas prices through much of 2008 prompted Americans to drive less. He mentioned putting tolls on new highways and new lanes, and on bridges, as possible solutions, and said that relying on a gas tax will not be enough.
"We need to think about these things differently than just the gasoline tax," said LaHood. "We know that Amtrak ridership is still way up even though gasoline prices have come down. We know, in places like Chicago, that people are still using a lot of mass transit even though gasoline prices have come down."
"People are still going to drive, but the resources to pay for it, through the Trust Fund, is a dinosaur, if you'll excuse the expression," continued LaHood. "It was developed when Eisenhower and the Congress came up with the idea of developing an interstate system. We've come far afield of that now."
There was plenty of confirmation hearing action on Capitol Hill today, but apparently Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), President-elect Obama's pick to head the Department of Transportation, was not a part of it. He was slated to appear before the Senate Commerce Committee this morning, but a notice posted on the hearing room door announced that the hearing has been postponed to an indefinite later date.
The New York Times quotes an anonymous Senate aide as saying LaHood's paperwork had not yet been sent over by the president-elect's transition staff.
The enviro angle on LaHood, of course, is that he'll have a role in spending a portion of Obama's big stimulus bill. Among other things, greens will be pushing for more mass transit funding, not more roads.
Barack Obama announced four new members of his team in a press conference Friday afternoon, including Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) for secretary of transportation and Rep. Hilda Solis for secretary of labor. Solis, Obama said, would be a leader in creating green-collar jobs. “We’re also going to have to train our workers to be prepared […]
Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) has apparently accepted Obama’s offer to be his Secretary of Transportation. LaHood, 63, has served in the House since 1995, and is retiring after his year. For more on his (not very lengthy) transit record, see Adam Doster at Progress Illinois: So what can we glean about LaHood’s record on this […]